Off-Campus Housing Tips

Your Lease

Your lease is a legally binding agreement between you and your landlord. Don't disregard its importance. Do not sign or fill out an application or make a deposit until you are certain you want the place. Once you sign an application or lease, you're committed to all its terms. Know exactly what you sign. Whether your apartment is furnished or unfurnished, find out what is provided before signing the lease. For example, most unfurnished apartments include a stove and refrigerator, but there are exceptions. Read the lease thoroughly and abide by it. You may wish to visit the Office of Off-Campus Living, 234 HUB-Robeson Center, to discuss leases and subleases that are written in the interest of both you and your landlord.

Verbal leases are binding in Pennsylvania. If you and your landlord end up in court, it's your word against his or hers as to the actual terms. For your protection, enter a verbal lease carefully.

Damage List

Preparing an accurate and complete damage list is the best way to protect your security deposit. When you move in, the first thing you should do is inspect your rental apartment or house for damages and prepare a complete damage list. Some landlords give tenants their own form; if your landlord doesn't have one, obtain a sample damage list from Off-Campus Living, 234 HUB-Robeson Center, or from their website at Note everything that is wrong with your rental unit on the damage list--every scratch, burn, or hole. Have two witnesses who don't live with you check the apartment and sign the list along with you and your roommate(s). Make a duplicate copy, dating and signing both copies, and have your landlord sign them. If he or she refuses to sign the lists, have them notarized by a local notary public (at banks, real estate offices, etc.--they may charge a fee) for date verification. Keep your copy of the damage list for at least a year after the expiration of your lease. If anything needs to be repaired, put it in writing to the landlord.

Everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand words, so why not photograph your new living quarters? Give one copy of the photos (dated) to the landlord and keep one copy for yourself. The picture will serve as proof positive of the unit's move-in condition when you are ready to move out. If you have access to a camcorder, a dated videotape will serve as proof of damages as well.

Choosing a Roommate

Choosing a roommate for your first apartment is one of the most important decisions you will make. The people with whom you decide to live will have an effect on your life in college, and you on theirs.

A brief assessment and inventory of your and your potential roommate's values and beliefs would be appropriate before committing to live together. This should be done even if your potential roommate is a friend, acquaintance, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Sit down and decide what you both like and dislike, from food to music.

This is also an ideal time to establish ground rules regarding such matters as overnight guests, parties, alcohol, and drugs. All of this might seem trivial when you're excited about finding and moving into a new apartment for the first time. But you'll be glad you discussed some of these issues two months down the road, when the overnight guest has turned into a permanent nonpaying resident. For additional help in choosing roommates, check out the "Roommate" section at the off-campus living website (

Getting Settled

If you rent an apartment or house, you may need some special contacts in order to set up housekeeping.

You can arrange for phone service through Verizon at 1-800-660-2215, online at, or through another local provider of your choice. Calls outside of the local calling area are long-distance calls and generally are handled by a long-distance company. There are many choices for long-distance providers.

For electric service, call West Penn Power Company at 800-255-3443. It's helpful to have the name of the previous tenant when you call.

Local government offices are located at 243 S. Allen St. By calling Building and Housing Inspections at 814-231-3056, you can report structural or unsanitary building conditions that are hazardous to health or safety.

The U.S. Postal Service in State College is located at 237 S. Fraser St. Post office boxes are available for rent at several locations, including the main office, the Calder Square II substation (located on the corner of Pugh Street and Calder Way), and the Nittany Mall. A campus substation is located on the ground floor of McAllister Building.

To file a private criminal complaint or a civil suit up to $4,000, arrange for a title transfer or motor vehicle registration, or have a document notarized, visit the District Justice's Office on at 131 S. Fraser St. The volunteer fire and ambulance companies are located at 400 W. Beaver Ave. The local number for fire, police, ambulance, and other emergency calls is 911.

Making Your Way

The residence halls are staffed by residence life coordinators and resident assistants (RAs) who are knowledgeable resource people. If you live off campus, you don't have an RA down the hall; consequently, you assume greater responsibility for seeking needed information.

Your best sources of academic information are the University Faculty Senate Policies for Students and the Undergraduate Degree Programs Bulletin. You'll learn how to access these documents at the meetings held on campus during the days immediately following your arrival.

Off-campus residents who need legal advice can contact The Office of Student Legal Services at 814-867-4388, the District Justice Courts at 814-237-4981, Mid Penn Legal Service at 814-238-4958, or the State College branch of the Attorney General's office at 814-863-3900.

Dining Savings for Commuters

Penn State Food Services operates a host of restaurants, coffee shops, snack bars, buffets, and food courts on campus. Locations include the HUB-Robeson Center, Kern Graduate Building, residence hall commons buildings, Pattee Library, the IST Building, and more. Commuter and on-campus resident students are welcome to enjoy the options. All locations accept LionCash+, providing for convenient spending via your id+ card. For more information on Penn State Food Services, visit